As part of our ongoing look at the state of games in the UK, we spoke to three of the bigger players in Scotland’s ambitious industry, and why developers should consider setting up in the small northern nation. Minecraft console developer 4J Studios, Indie giant Outplay Entertainment and licensed mobile games expert Tag Games tell us more
What's the development scene like in Scotland right now - both in terms of how companies are performing and the culture between studios?
Chris Van Der Kuyl, chairman, 4J Studios (pictured, centre): Game development in Scotland is in rude health at the moment. The recent news that Epic has acquired a couple of businesses here, committed to building a new studio in Edinburgh and hired David Jones to become their Global Head of eSports is a pretty good indication of the market’s confidence in Scotland as a location to make great games.
Luis de la Cámara, VP of global marketing, Outplay Entertainment (pictured, left): Scotland has a long legacy of games development, from Lemmings and GTA to Crackdown 3 and Red Dead Redemption 2. This pedigree has endured, and the development scene is thriving. Glasgow, Edinburgh, and in particular Dundee have been leading the growth of the industry in Scotland – acting as epicentres for creativity and passion for games.
The Scottish development community is a great mix of experienced game developers and younger game makers entering the industry for the first time and has a significant international component as well. In the same way, there is always a vibrant scene of grassroots game jams that engage professionals, students and hobbyists.
As the largest independent mobile games studio in the UK, Outplay is proud to help push mobile development and publishing both in Scotland and the UK as a whole. We are proud to be a part of a burgeoning Scottish industry.
Paul Farley, chairman, Tag Games (pictured, right): Game development is thriving in Scotland. Not only are the established studios continuing to produce a wide variety of award-winning and commercially successful games, but we have also seen a number of the younger teams achieve sustainability and success.
In terms of culture between studios, not many people are directly competing against each other, and so there is an openness about the ups and downs of development. People can be very frank and information flows between studios very easily. Personally, we are always happy to look at ways to help other studios locally.
Apart from the easy access to Irn Bru, whisky and haggis?! Scotland is a beautiful country with a workforce that is highly creative, technically accomplished and has a strong work ethic.Paul Farley, Tag Games
What are the advantages of setting up a studio in Scotland?
Van Der Kuyl: There are a whole host of reasons as to why this is a great location to set up a studio. Up in Dundee, where we have our main base, there is a fantastic concentration of talent across all the main disciplines of games development and the local universities led by Abertay are a fantastic source of new entrants to the industry.
De la Cámara: A healthy mix of local veteran talent, and international professionals, all with years of experience culminate to make a creative and rewarding community.
Various institutions and organizations are also a huge proponent of the sector, where businesses often receive support from Scottish Enterprise, Creative Scotland, and TIGA among others. Similarly, access to VCs and financial institutions in Scotland, London and across Europe, offer viable sources of investment for new businesses.
In more general terms, the cost of living is a lot more affordable in Scotland than London and other development hubs across Europe and the US – all within a region rich with culture, history and vast natural beauty.
Farley: Apart from the easy access to Irn Bru, whisky and haggis?! Scotland is a beautiful country with a workforce that is highly creative, technically accomplished and has a strong work ethic.
There is a fantastic standard of living here, a wide range of local and national support for new games businesses and the weather isn't anywhere near as bad as others would have you believe.
Are local universities, colleges and other educational institutions in the area providing enough talent that fulfils your needs?
Van Der Kuyl: Whilst we are delighted with the support we get from our universities and colleges we could always use more talent and it’s vital that everyone, especially the industry and government, continues to help our education sector produce more and more exciting graduates for the industry.
De la Cámara: Abertay is a key partner we collaborate with through our Outplay Academy – a learning and development initiative for the studio’s team and the wider Outplay community. Abertay provides access to highly trained new talent, and many of our veterans have studied there.
Locally we are also fortunate to have Dundee University, and in Scotland in general, there are numerous well-regarded universities in St. Andrews, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and many other locations, all producing highly trained professionals across all sectors.
Around 30 per cent of Outplay’s team are non-UK citizens and we think that international diversity is a crucial part of the company’s culture as well as our ability to make games that have a global appeal. Our ability to attract international talent is vital to our success in the future and we hope that ability is undiminished in the future.”
Farley: We are incredibly lucky to have Abertay University on our doorstep which not only has world class games courses, but also the Dare Academy which nurtures and showcases the best of the university’s games talent.
But right now it is very difficult for the local educational institutions to keep pace with the staffing requirements given that so many of the Scottish studios have been growing rapidly and expect to continue to do so. There is certainly a gap which at the moment generally seems to be being filled from the rest of Europe.
What is Scotland's reputation when it comes to hiring staff from overseas and is this a challenging process?
Van Der Kuyl: Scotland has always had a warm and welcoming reputation when it comes to inviting people in to work from overseas and the Scottish Government has committed to help make Scotland as attractive as possible for great global talent.
De la Cámara: Scotland is well known as a development hub, thanks to some prestigious studios such as Rockstar North or the former DMA Design, and renowned titles that have originated from the country such as Grand Theft Auto, Lemmings, and Crackdown just to name a few. Our own games at Outplay, developed in Dundee, have been downloaded over 100 million times, bringing smiles to people across all corners of the world.
Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee are all important development hubs, and in fact, Dundee is the biggest in terms of the number of individual game related businesses. Dundee is quite well known within the UK, however, there is a lot more we can do to build awareness of both Dundee and Scotland as a creative hub for overseas talent. We need to work closely with the city councils and other organisations such as Scottish Enterprise to promote the creative sector further.
With two major universities based here in Dundee, Abertay and Dundee University, the prestigious St. Andrews University only 20 minutes away, the recently opened V&A museum in the redeveloped waterfront, alongside a large number of creative businesses – there is an amazing energy in this small riverside city.
Farley: We have found that Scotland is a highly desirable destination for potential candidates. The image that Scotland portrays to the world is generally correct, so many will come here for the history, jaw-dropping landscapes, outdoor sports, creative arts and great pubs, however more often than not they fall in love with the people first and then the country.
Scots must be the friendliest and most welcoming in the world! The main challenge is finding senior and management hires, primarily because we are at a disadvantage when trying to attract these types of candidates from the big development bases such as London, Berlin, San Francisco and so on.
In recent years it has become noticeable that the games industry is “scaling up” in Scotland. There are more and better-funded studios opening and growing here and it feels very buoyant.Chris Van Der Kuyl, 4J Studios
What are the biggest changes and challenges you’ve noticed that are affecting the Scottish games industry over the last couple of years?
Van Der Kuyl: In recent years it has become noticeable that the games industry is “scaling up” in Scotland. There are more and better-funded studios opening and growing here and it feels very buoyant.
I feel that Scotland is finally approaching a critical mass that will see even more significant investment from abroad as well as indigenous growth in the games industry here.
De la Cámara: Increased competition across multiple tech-related industries makes it challenging to find experienced talent no matter where you are based. However, this level of competition means we all need to step up our game to attract the best talent. That’s why we created the Outplay Academy – where we invest heavily in continuing to up-skill our team, and we pride ourselves on having a great work-life balance which can be rare in this industry.
Similarly, Digital Marketing is also getting more competitive and therefore expensive, so building a strong Marketing team, and having access to finance is always key for supporting hyper growth.
Farley: The biggest challenge has been accessing growth funding, especially equity investment. Whilst Scottish developers have benefited from Games Tax Credits and the UK Games Fund support along with the rest of the UK games industry equity funding does tend to be very London centric with very limited sources north of the border.
Most of today’s Scottish gaming success stories have taken a very long time to achieve success as they have had to be grown organically, or acquired and then grown. It’s disappointing that so much great talent here fails to achieve its full potential due to a lack of financial support.
How is Brexit affecting your company?
Van Der Kuyl: Unfortunately the referendum over Brexit and some of the “clamping down” by the Home Office in recent years has changed the mood considerably and it is not nearly as easy to convince individuals coming from abroad that Scotland is the best choice for them for their next career move.
De la Cámara: Thirty per cent of our team is international, most from the EU, so not having easy access to this incredible pool of talent would be a big blow for Outplay and the games industry in general.
The UK is an important market for us, but we are a global business with the vast majority of our revenue coming from international markets and we believe that having a very international team is a huge advantage. Anything that limits this could be very damaging.
Farley: The biggest impact is on recruitment from the rest of Europe. We have leaned heavily on recruitment from beyond the UK in previous years, but have seen this drop significantly since the Brexit referendum.
We expect this will continue post-Brexit and is a concern. Unfortunately, anything that hinders our ability to attract and bring great talent to Scotland is a major benefit to our competitors.
What does the future hold for Scotland as a games hub?
Van Der Kuyl: The current international climate means both challenge and opportunity for the Scottish Games Sector and how we respond will dictate the future. If we work with local, Scottish and UK government to make this the most welcoming community with the highest quality talent then the sky really is the limit in terms of how big the industry can be here.
If we are half-hearted in our approach and don’t invest across the board in all the factors that contribute to a successful industry then we will miss a once in a generation opportunity to consolidate our place in the upper echelons of digital entertainment globally.
De la Cámara: Scotland’s long legacy of gaming is as healthy as ever and it is only growing. The more success we all experience the more talent and finance we will attract. This success is on the rise, showcased by the growing support from universities, Scottish and British institutions, as well as financial organisations.
For this reason, if anyone is thinking of opening up a studio, we strongly recommend Scotland, and Dundee in particular.
Farley: Despite the challenges of Brexit the future is looking bright. The combination of world-class educational facilities and a wide range of established studios operating across all platforms has created a very strong infrastructure to support future growth.
Those leading today's Scottish games studios have navigated many storms and are actively passing on the benefit of their knowledge and experience to a younger generation of exciting startups and spinouts.
A more aggressive approach to investment in these young businesses alongside will reap great reward in the years to come if we can match financial support with the knowledge share and mentorship which is now more widely taking place.
Come find out about the future of the PC games market at PC Connects London 2019. Tickets are available to buy right here. One ticket gives you access to not just this event, but also Pocket Gamer Connects and Blockchain Gamer Connects.